Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the importance of babysitters

Yesterday, my friend Anne and I were talking about the importance of having time away from our kids. This is a conversation that comes up from time to time amongst moms. There are some who seem to think wanting to be away from your kids is a terrible thing and means you aren't dedicated to being a parent. But I, and almost every parent I know, disagrees. And here are a few of the reasons why.

As a parent, my job is to foster self-reliance and eventual independence in my children. These are lessons they need to learn or they will never be able to go out on their own. If they have no idea how to survive in the world without me there, how will they be able to attend college? And get a job? And maybe get married, have their own kids?

Big life skill lessons are something that are good to start early. As toddlers and preschoolers, a few hours without mom and dad starts teaching them that they are independent beings and they are capable of playing and doing other things without me. Oh what a help that is at home! Once they begin to learn that lesson, they can play by themselves for a bit while I cook dinner or clean house. And I don't have multiple interruptions! If you just wait until they go to school, it will be much harder. The whole point is to establish 'normal' as 'mom and dad can go to a movie and they will still come home.'

It is also very important for mom to get away and develop her own interests. This isn't mean or selfish. To really truly teach your children to find their passions, you need to show them that you have some. Seeing mom and dad as people may not sink in when they are young, but they will be learning that lesson despite themselves. They will see what you are passionate about and maybe be interested in the same thing. Or not, but at least they see that having a hobby, something that interests you, is a good thing.

And here's a biggie: parents need to go out on dates, have time to develop their relationship as spouses. Yes, the kids go to bed and we have a couple of hours before we join the land of slumber. But that isn't the same. We're still parents, catching up on housework or just decompressing while the little ones fall asleep. A frightening number of marriages end in divorce after the kids leave the house because the parents realize they don't really know each other any more, they have nothing in common except the kids. Why does this happen? I think it's because they forget that the most important relationship they have is with each other. Yes, I am a mom. But the caretaking phase of that will only last another dozen or so years and in 16 more they will leave the nest. But I am and will still be a wife. And that's a good thing. That's what I signed on for 7 years ago.

In college, I did an experiment in a biology class that kind of relates. I had two plants. One had its basic needs met (sunlight, water). The other plant was pampered with extra nutrients, etc. Plant 1 did ok while plant 2 thrived under all that extra care..... until the experiment was over and they both got basic care. Plant 1 showed its mettle then. It had learned to help itself. While it wasn't as big as the other, it was slow and steady and reliable. Plant 2 withered under the lack of pampering. It hadn't developed the systems needed to take care of itself and support all the extra growth on its own.

While the analogy isn't perfect, think of all the young adults you know who have had everything handed to them, with mom and dad always coming to the rescue. Then they go to college and can't cope. They still need mom and dad to call the professor and explain why they didn't finish their homework. Or they fail because mom and dad finally cut those apron strings and don't help. Then think of all the other young adults who learned self-reliance. Those are the leaders who get stuff done and thrive on their own. They have the groundwork to support themselves.

So, here's the bottom line: take time out from your kids. It is healthier for you, for them, and for your marriage. It's ok to send them to preschool so you have a few hours on your own. It's wonderful for them to spend a weekend at grandma and grandpa's house (and what a way to develop that relationship!). Find a babysitter or a neighbor or a friend or join a babysitting co-op and have a mom's night out and a date night. Those are important and don't mean you don't love your kids. They mean you do love them and are doing your best for them.

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